To the Editor:
In last week’s issue of The Phillipian, two Letters to the Editor addressed gender in the upcoming Co-Presidential election. Both generated an online firestorm of comments, some of which claimed that gender inequality does not exist at Andover—that, rather, the election is based wholly on merit.
A gender-blind Andover that sees only “merit” is a myth. Andover is not a meritocracy.
If we assume that Andover has achieved equal, merit-based opportunities across genders, how do we explain the historical reality that, since the 1973 merger between Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy, only four school presidents have been female?
Under this assumption, the only explanation, beside cosmic coincidence, is that males—over the past four decades—possessed more merit as student body leaders than females had. To surrender to this belief—that males are more qualified than females—affirms sexism.
We rationalize our historic lack of female presidents by claiming that not enough girls run for the position to have an equal chance at election. This point, though true, merely masks the deeper issue. What lies behind this statistic? It cannot simply be that generations of girls have been less motivated and self-confident.
We must not charge girls with a lack of self-confidence, when their entire surrounding structure precludes confidence in their gender. Four girls in four decades. These odds don’t speak to progress.
Blaming a lack of female representation on the fact that “girls don’t run” excuses gender imbalances in student leadership as unfortunate consequences of a meritocracy. It draws us deeper into the myth, something we, as Andover students, are already subconsciously inclined to believe. At this selective secondary school, it’s self-gratifying to believe that the superior qualities that allowed us admission and our hard work have been the sole deciders of our present achievements. Nothing is more egalitarian than the notion of a meritocracy.
Blind faith in meritocracy, however, denies Andover’s historical legacy and current reality. These beliefs obscure the structural inequalities that exist within our bubble. Structural inequalities self-propagate through language, and meritocratic rhetoric disguises and perpetuates privilege—as it has since Andover’s foundation as an all-male institution in 1778.
Male privilege dominates our community because we function within a patriarchy. “Male privilege” and “patriarchy,” generally dismissed as feminist jargon, are, in reality, ubiquitous and universal. Society privileges males because it considers man to be the “default” and gives males advantages that are viewed as inherent social norms.
Male dominance is destructive because it establishes itself as the norm while camouflaging the pre-existing patriarchal framework. A system that masquerades as meritocratic, yet maintains male privilege, will only cement this framework, fortify prejudice and inhibit progress.
The Co-Presidential model offers an opportunity to begin dismantling our structural inequality. Some have argued that advocating female leadership through this new model only settles for a cheapened construction of equality—artificially accelerated “change.” Based on this reasoning, the same could be said of the Abbot-Phillips merger’s mandated integration of female students into an all-male institution. It is never too early for structural change to begin setting precedents.
Others have questioned the need for a female president, citing the position’s lack of authority. Regardless of its functionality, the presidency is the most visible student leadership position, and the statistical underrepresentation of girls as school presidents—despite Andover’s even gender ratio—evidences structural gender inequality.
Gender inequality, of course, is not the only inequity that persists at Andover. The power structures upholding sexism converge with those upholding racism, classism, cisism and other “-isms.” These analogous issues, however, diverge in terms of solutions, and by playing them against each other, we diminish the unique importance of each and stagnate progress on all fronts.
Gender inequality on campus is within our purview to rectify. If the 50-50 female-male ratio of the student body does not translate into the equal partitioning of leadership positions, we cannot expect other statistically underrepresented demographics to be reflected in student leadership.
In denying the existence of gender inequities on our campus, we concede to sexism and become voluntary soldiers of patriarchy. We must seek out the complexities within this issue, rather than succumb to convenient strains of decontextualized explanations. True meritocracy does not exist. We cannot continue to misidentify the root of gender imbalance. If we continue to invoke the rhetoric of merit and dismiss history, we deny the reality of male privilege and impede progress to true gender equality.
Connie Cheng ’13, Isabel Cropsey ’13, Jimmy Hunter ’13, Sam Koffman ’13, Heather Zhou ’13, and Julie Zhou ’13